The cover art of Reel Life, with a tiny image of Sonny Rollins sitting on top of a giant tape reel, is a telling factor in this 1982 studio session. Rollins was one of the first beboppers, and one of the last remaining to record with magnetic audio tape in an analog format. This sterling band with Rollins featured two electric and distinctly different guitarists in Bobby Broom and Yoshiaki Masuo, longtime electric bass guitarist Bob Cranshaw, and the keen and vibrant drummer Jack DeJohnette. As the career of Rollins moved into fourth gear, his love for hard bop, Caribbean music, and funkier styles continued to appeal to die-hard fans and the urban crowd. A matchless melodic tenor saxophone, Rollins just kept rolling along like the rotating metal wheel that documented these selections. Since his hit "St. Thomas," the tenor man always serves up an obligatory calypso, in this case the strolling "Rosita's Best Friend" with a brief lead, then one extended with Masuo's acoustic guitar. Hard bop and easy swing are also staples with Howard McGhee's hot "McGhee" and the classy take of "My Little Brown Book" respectively. When Rollins became interested in more contemporary music, it was never at the point of selling out, as the title track, in its basic child's melody in a funky soup with the two electric guitarists, is a pure delight. The Masuo original "Sonny Side Up" also brims with soulful beats, while "Best Wishes" swaps from swing to contemporary funk with ease, with Broom's deft solo emphasizing the marriage of the two styles. Both guitar players are so distinctly different, with Broom's Chicago based rhythm & blues roots and the resonant, steelier sound of Japanese national Masuo offering contrast aside the spike bass of Cranshaw and DeJohnette's purposeful, fluent drumming. In the middle is Sonny Rollins, at ease and comfortable in not so much driving the band as being the golden centerpiece in this stable display of modern jazz that in many ways set the standard for an upcoming new era.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos